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The NFL Veterans Who Could Get Traded During the NFL Draft

With the draft serving as the NFL’s unofficial offseason trade deadline, could unhappy or expensive players like DeAndre Hopkins, Mac Jones, or Derrick Henry be on the move this weekend?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Deadlines get deals done, and the start of the NFL draft doubles as the offseason’s unofficial trade deadline. We’ve already seen Aaron Rodgers (finally) get dealt to the New York Jets ahead of the draft, a deal that included a swap of first-round picks. But Rodgers is just one of a number of players who have been rumored to be on the move. Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles traded for Tennessee receiver A.J. Brown during the draft. That trade propelled Philadelphia to the Super Bowl. Which veterans could get dealt on draft weekend this year? Let’s go through the biggest names that could be available and determine whether they’ll be traded or are staying put.

DeAndre Hopkins, Wide Receiver, and Budda Baker, Safety, Arizona Cardinals

Would you want to play for the Cardinals? They currently have the worst roster in the NFL and a starting quarterback who is recovering from a torn ACL and who, according to the team’s veteran right tackle, “needs to grow up a little bit.” They also had the oldest starting offense in football last year—if you remove their starting quarterback from the equation. Arizona’s new head coach, Jonathan Gannon, seems to constantly be doing a Kendall Roy impression. Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, who inherited the team from his father and will soon inherit the title of worst NFL owner from Dan Snyder, has overseen a toxic workplace, according to former Cardinals executives. In an NFLPA survey of players grading their workplaces, the Cardinals ranked 31st out of 32 teams (behind only Snyder’s Commanders).

So yeah, of course Hopkins would want out. Considering he’s Arizona’s highest-paid player and has the highest cap hit of any receiver in the NFL, the Cardinals will likely be happy to oblige. But where could Hopkins go? Don’t just take it from me on where he wants to go—check out this clip of how Hopkins reacted when asked by the All Things Covered pod to answer questions about trade destinations strictly with body language. Take note of his reactions to the Patriots—whose current offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, famously traded Hopkins away from the Texans in 2020—and to the Buffalo Bills.

That’s the real-life version of the Drake “Hotline Bling” meme.

Budda Baker, realizing he was about to get Irish goodbyed by one of Arizona’s last good players, decided to follow suit and reportedly asked for either a trade or a raise. It makes sense for Baker—he’ll either get to a better team or dip into the money the Cardinals will save by trading Hopkins.

Verdict: Both getting traded

Trey Lance, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Trey Lance has been supplanted by Brock Purdy as the 49ers’ starting QB. San Francisco general manager John Lynch has made clear that Purdy is the team’s starter when he’s healthy. But Purdy had surgery to repair the UCL injury in his right elbow that he suffered in the NFC championship game, so his recovery timeline is unclear. But even if Purdy won’t be ready by September, it’s possible that Lance wouldn’t even be QB2 ahead of Sam Darnold. So the 49ers would be wise to trade Lance now if there’s a chance he’s not even their backup. The problem is that not even Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have seen Lance play much football. Tom Brady threw more passes last season than Lance has thrown in the NFL, college, and high school combined.

The most obvious trading partner is the Tennessee Titans. New Titans general manager Ran Carthon came from the 49ers front office, and that familiarity could facilitate a deal, similar to how the Lions-Rams swap of Matt Stafford for Jared Goff happened shortly after Rams executive Brad Holmes took the general manager job in Detroit. And when Carthon took that Tennessee job, Lance posted a picture of Carthon on his Instagram story with three fingers-crossed emojis: . Titans starting QB Ryan Tannehill turns 35 in July, his contract voids after this season, and he ended last year on injured reserve. Tennessee’s only other QB is 2022 third-round pick Malik Willis, who seemingly does not have the trust of head coach Mike Vrabel. If Tennessee doesn’t get its preferred QB in the first round of the draft, dealing for Lance would make sense.

The Vikings are another interesting candidate. Minnesota structured Kirk Cousins’s deal in a way that would allow them to move on soon, and Lance is from Minnesota. The Texans are another team that could take a swing at Lance if they don’t draft a QB at no. 2 or no. 12 because their new offensive coordinator, Bobby Slowik, previously worked under Shanahan in San Francisco from 2017 to 2022.

Verdict: Getting traded

Derrick Henry, Running Back, Tennessee Titans

Speaking of Tennessee, Tannehill isn’t the only player with a contract that voids after this season—so does Derrick Henry’s deal. The Titans rushed to deny recent rumors that they were floating a trade for Henry with Philadelphia, but the reality is that he’s entering the final year of his contract and is 29 years old. While Henry has defied the running back age curve for a while, he is an old 29, and his almost 1,700 touches in the last five seasons are the most in the NFL in that period. Meanwhile, the Titans may be on the cusp of rebuilding if they add a new QB. There may not be a robust trade market for someone of Henry’s age and contract, so the Titans might merely keep Henry and let him walk next year.

Verdict: Staying put

Mac Jones, Quarterback, New England Patriots

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has reportedly offered Jones to other teams in trades this offseason, and NFL reporter Mike Giardi reported that the Patriots had interest in Will Levis. (It seems Jones has committed the sin of noticing that Matt Patricia was not fit to be an offensive coordinator last year, and Belichick has apparently been mad at Jones ever since.) If New England could flip Jones to Houston for the second pick, he could lead the Texans as an experienced bridge QB until Houston drafts a rookie in 2024. If a deal with Houston were to fall through, Tennessee at 11 could be another landing spot for Jones, considering Vrabel’s connections to Belichick. But barring a big trade, Jones and the Patriots are likely stuck together for another year with hopes that Bill O’Brien, an actual offensive coordinator, could smooth out most of New England’s offensive issues.

Verdict: Staying put

Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings

Cook is in the same boat as Henry. Both are talented backs whose salaries may be outpacing their value to the team. But Cook has had more injuries than Henry, has been less of a game changer, and plays for a team far less likely to design an offense around him. Cook is scheduled to make $10.4 million this year (just slightly less than Henry), and his salary is scheduled to rise in 2024 and 2025; the new Vikings regime that took over in 2022 might be less inclined to overvalue the running back position. Cook has been floated as a trade candidate, but in a market where Ezekiel Elliott is still a free agent, it seems hard to believe that a team will trade for the right to pay Cook $11 million in 2023. The Vikings seem likely to cut Cook after this season, though he could be cut before the draft so that they can save money.

Verdict: Staying put or getting released, but not getting traded

Austin Ekeler, Running Back, Los Angeles Chargers

Ekeler has been loud about wanting a new contract or a trade. “I’m so underpaid right now as far as my contract and what I contribute to the team, it’s like, I am relentlessly pursuing this,” Ekeler told Chris Long on the Green Light podcast in March. “I want to get something long-term done. I want a team that wants me long-term. I’m at the peak of my game, right? As long as I’m healthy, I’m gonna score you another 20 touchdowns. I’m gonna have, you know, another 1,600 all-purpose yards. I’m getting half my value of what I could be getting.”

Ekeler is certainly justified in feeling that he’s outplayed his current contract. The issue is that there doesn’t currently seem to be much room for expensive veteran running backs. Elliott was released by the Cowboys to save $11 million. Cook and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon, who has a base salary of $9.4 million in 2023, could be next. With a dozen quality running backs in this draft, Ekeler is unlikely to find a team willing to make that long-term commitment for big money.

Verdict: Staying put (and staying mad)

Jerry Jeudy, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos

Denver receiver Jerry Jeudy has been a trade candidate for months. Denver’s reported asking price is a first-rounder, rich for a player who has underwhelmed in his first three seasons. New head coach Sean Payton knocked down those rumors (as well as speculation that the team was shopping wide receiver Courtland Sutton) last month. But the Broncos must decide by next week whether they’ll pick up Jeudy’s fifth-year option in 2024 for a touch under $13 million. If Payton and Denver are leaning toward declining that, they should see whether they could swap Jeudy for a second-rounder. But there may not be teams interested in paying Jeudy $13 million next year when second-round receivers in this draft would make a fraction of that.

Verdict: Staying put

Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

With Rodgers officially a Jet, Lamar Jackson is the most accomplished veteran quarterback who is available this week. But it’s complicated. Jackson seems to be seeking a fully guaranteed contract from the Ravens or another team. But it seems highly unlikely that any NFL owners would be willing to go there. If Jackson would be willing to take less than that to leave, he could sign an offer sheet with another team, putting the ball in Baltimore’s court: The Ravens have the right to match any offer, or they’ll receive two first-rounders from the team that signs Jackson. But the devil is in the details: Teams could wait until after this draft to make Jackson an offer, and if the deal goes through, they could send Baltimore first-rounders in 2024 and 2025. That seems to make it unlikely that one of the quarterback-needy teams in this draft, like Indianapolis, would make Jackson an offer this weekend.

Verdict: Staying put